I was reading an article about “Armageddon fiction” — well there is a lot of it around at the moment, for obvious reasons — and comment left on it recommended Gwyneth Jones’s Bold As Love in a way that caught my fancy. Something a bit both radical but also playful seemed like the seasonal thing, if you’re going to read something like this at all. (Couldn’t face The Road again – it is a brilliant book, but I spent two weeks depressed after reading it!)
Published in 2001, it tells the story of “Dissolution Summer”, as Britain splits into its constituent parts, the economic and technical systems break down, and total societal collapse looms. (The rest of the world, we sketchily learn, is on varying parts of the same spectrum.)
What’s curious, reading it now, is how many echoes there are of the Occupy movement, in a novel written more than a decade before the first Occupy tent peg was driven in. At the centre of the story are fans of alternative music, and alternative lifestyles, who gather at traditional spots (and some non-traditional) around the country and refuse to move. They’re keen on a particular mask (though this is fro a rock group, not a movie, as today). And there’s a faint echo of Charlie Brooker’s recent Black Mirror – albeit far grimmer, in the fall of England’s first post-disaster prime minister/dictator.
There’s also a war with Islamic separatists in Yorkshire, 300,000 environmental refugees and cyclical brownouts as the fossil fuel runs out – not much that dates there. (Although perhaps the nation looking to alternative music stars has – we’ve had far too much X Factor for that industry’s magical gloss to have been retained.
The whole thing is centred around a romance, told from the perspective of the female lead, which not being a reader of romances I often found quite irritating, and it fluctuates in tone and content between the fantasy genre (this is the first of the series and you get the feeling the main character’s “magic” credentials will come to the fore later – Jones gets a touch of JK Rowling influence there, you feel) and rather more realist disaster fiction – the later elements being those I found more interesting.
Lots of interesting ideas and incidents float through this novel – and it is very nicely written. I don’t think I’ll be bothering to read the next in the series – I like my political thinking a bit more straight down the line, but I’m glad I’ve read this one, and expect incidents and ideas from it will come popping into my head for some time to come.